I went to a honey tasting last week, and what an eye-opener. I knew there were different types, of course, with no less than three shelves at my local grocery store dedicated to the voluptuous nectar. But I confess I rarely have more than one or two different honeys in my cabinet at any given time (and really saw no reason to have more), and thought the differences between, say, Orange Blossom Honey and Star Thistle Honey were mostly nuance and marketing. Wrong.
When we arrived, the table was set up with a paper plate at each of ten seats. Small bowls filled with little plastic spoons scattered around the table, along with pitchers of water and plates of crackers and apple slices to cleanse our palates between tastings. The tasting was organized and led by Marie Simmons, an award-winning, prolific cookbook author who is at work on a new cookbook, A Taste of Honey, that will share honey recipes, folklore, and pairing recommendations. It’s due out in spring 2013, so keep your eyes out for it. As a special bonus that evening, one of the other guests keeps some hives, and brought some fresh honeycomb to share with the group. In all, we sampled 16 different honeys before stopping for dinner, but Marie was generously prepared to have us sample another 13. So much succulence, so little time.
If you decide to do something like this yourself, here are some tips that Marie shared with us:
- As with wine, start with light-colored honeys and work your way up to the darker ones.
- Examine the color and clarity of the honey first; breathe it in, and evaluate its scent; check the viscosity with your little spoon; and finally taste it. To taste it, place a small amount on the front of your tongue and allow it to melt across your mouth, and close your eyes as you focus your entire attention on the flavors that show up both initially, and after 15 – 20 seconds. Do the flavors linger, morph into something new, or quickly taper to nothing? Is it floral, or is it savory? Is it buttery, crisp, citrusy, or spicy?
- We passed the honey jars around, one at a time, and discussed each one before moving onto the next. It slows down the tasting, but otherwise I think it would quickly become a blur.
Some tips in buying honey:
- You generally get what you pay for. Some less expensive honeys are cut with corn syrup to reduce their cost.
- Buy raw honey, not pasteurized. Pasteurizing is a heat process that helps to prevent crystallization of the honey on the supermarket shelves. But the heat processing damages the enzymes that are good for you, and can affect the flavor of the honey. If your honey crystallizes, just place it in a bowl of hot water for a while, or nuke it on a very low setting.
- Darker honey asserts a much stronger taste, with molasses, butterscotch, or caramel tones; pale golden honeys were generally more floral, citrusy, or spicy.
- Although I generally try to buy local honeys, the ones we tried from Sicily offered greater complexity in flavor, and were just delicious.
Apricot Honey Scones
Ingredients (Makes 6 scones)
- 1/2 cup dried apricots (I used Enduring Sun’s Larissa sun-dried apricots)
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 cups + 2 tablespoons (10 oz) all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
- 1/4 cup raw honey (I used Gibson’s Orange Blossom)
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 2/3 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg
- turbinado sugar
Place the dried apricots into a bowl. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil, and pour it over the apricots. Cover the bowl in plastic to seal the heat in. Let sit for 30 minutes to soften. Drain, and dice the apricots into 1/4″ pieces. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade. Pulse a few times to distribute the baking powder and soda in the flour.
Slice the butter into 1/4″ pieces and add to the bowl of the processor all at once. Pulse 10-12 times until the butter is the broken up to the size of little peas. Empty into a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, orange zest, buttermilk, and egg. Pour into the bowl containing the flour mixture, and fold in using a large spatula until it’s completely incorporated into a dough.
Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead a couple times with floured hands and shape into a circle, roughly 9″ in diameter. Lightly oil the surface of a chef’s knife and slice the dough into 6 triangular “pie slices”. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle liberally with raw or turbinado sugar. If you don’t have turbinado, you can substitute granular sugar or omit.
Bake for 15 – 17 minutes.